This ancient fire festival, held when the harvesting season has ended, celebrates the end of summer. As the world turns toward the dark half of the year, the Unseelie begin their journey inward, entering the realms of shadow and nightmare in search of knowledge and enlightenment. On this night, the Mists part, allowing Kithain a glimpse into the otherworlds.
The counterpart to Beltaine, Samhain is the other Great Festival of the Fae. On Samhain Eve the wall between worlds grows thin. It is a solemn time for the kithain, a time to strain against the Mists, part them, and remember fallen comrades. It is a night to honor those who have been lost as well as mortals who have contributed Glamour to the world.
Samhain also serves as an ideal time for divination and in many courts the seers and soothsayers perform their auguries to discover the fates of lost friends and hints for the coming year.
Before the Shattering, Samhain marked the beginning of the time of Unseelie rule. This transfer of power only rests in the form of the "Shadow Court's" one night reign. The Unseelie are given a chance to deride everything they hate in Seelie society. They hold mock tournaments and courts to make fun of the monarchy and privy council. Seelie fae are encouraged to adopt their Unseelie legacy for the night and experience their other side.
Childlings often join human children in trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods, gathering Glamour from the real and imagined scariness of the night and the joy of their mortal comrades.
Shadow Court Interpretation
It is believed that the worlds are mirror images, that while it is dark in this world, it is light in the other. Winter here is echoed by a summertime in the otherworld. Thus, the Unseelie rule during the darkness of this world, but during the enlightened time of the otherworld. This belief shapes the Shadow Court’s claim that they should rule unopposed, as the Seelie did for 600 years. They believe that Arcadia has nearly fallen, not due to Banality, but because Seelie rule has brought centuries of darkness for Arcadia, a time during which no fae has sought new revelations or grown in understanding. They believe that if the Unseelie rule and the darkness of Endless Winter comes upon the world, Arcadia will enter a glorious new era of enlightenment, Endless Summer.
Samhain serves as an in-between time for both beginning and ending. It is a period of purification, a time when the king (who represents both the land and the people) is sacrificed or overthrown. A fool or a new king (an Unseelie king) is set in the old king’s place to symbolize both the ending of the old path and the beginning of a new journey.
Shadow Court Festivities
The winter equinox marks both the beginning and ending of the Unseelie calendar. Since the Shattering, the rituals of Samhain have become more and elaborate. By tradition, many freeholds and kingdoms will have festivities that are similar, yet the commoners and shadow courtiers in each one will flavor each event with their ingenuity, deviance, and perversion.
Because the veil between the two worlds is thin, very few of the individuals present at Samhain ceremonies will remember what has occurred. This applies to other supernatural creatures as well. Only Instigators who possess the proper sorcerous rituals, and Ritualists who are protected by them, will recall what has occurred. Of course, they will use the information to their advantage later. What is hidden will become truth, and exploiting secrets builds new truths.
As has been detailed elsewhere, the festivities of Samhain often begin on the night before. The exact astrological factors have been ignored over the centuries, so Samhain is now celebrated on the same day of each year. The night before, Unseelie pooka, beasties and redcaps mark the importance of October 30th with vandalism and arson. The madness of Hell's Night is the result. Rampaging in the streets, the assembled cliques will choose a few select locations for sacrifice. These may be chosen by masterminds beforehand, but more often than not, the tradition of Hell’s Night is a way to gain Glamour and Ravage before Samhain proper begins.
Trick or Treat
Mortals are well acquainted with some of the traditions of this night. Schoolteachers throughout the U.S. lecture on how common villagers made precautions against evil spirits with pumpkins, plates of food, and vigilance. As a result, human children and childlings alike have a chance to dress up in spooky costumes and gorge on candy until they puke. Such is the way of mortals. The true stories of Samhain have been twisted to commercialize the event, and tamed for the “mother-approved” version of one of the greatest nights of the year. Despite this, even Unseelie commoners mix a little Halloween decorations into their Samhain proceedings, largely to maintain a facade of normalcy, and to mock the holiday itself.
Childlings love this time of year, especially when they have the chance to misbehave. Smashing pumpkins, soaping windows, and scaring human children are only the beginnings. Unseelie with the Facade cantrip will give human children a taste of what the evening should really be. Disguising themselves as promising mortals whom they’ve watched throughout the year, some changelings live up to their names by switching places with human children on this night. The rest of the changeling’s clique will offer some sweet Glamorous treats and bring their guest along for the ride. The inspiration found on that night brings nightmares for months to come.
Hide & Freak
Members of the Seelie nobility who want to display humility often go into disguise as well. At other times of the year, nobles who pretend to be commoners do so to find out what their people think of them. Unfortunately, common folk are brighter than most members of the aristocracy give them credit for being. They choose instead to use such opportunities to misinform their superiors. The Samhain Mists play tricks on this night, though, and nobles find it easier to disguise themselves while Samhain is in effect. For one night, they have the freedom to go where they will and do what they please. Any roll to affect a disguise is made at a -2 difficulty.
The Samhain Mists will eradicate memories of what nobles attempt, but it also assists their enemies. If a commoner finds a noble in disguise, it is common to ask a boon of him. This is actually letting the noble off easy, since rivals who find nobles at this time typically have more pointed requests. If the boon has not been fulfilled by dawn, commoners will track down the noble, and extract payment by more physical means.
Unseelie nobility typically do not participate in this activity. They relinquish their titles as well, but they have more somber rituals to attend. These reach their peak (or nadir) with the Ritual of the Eidolon, which begins early in the evening and concludes around 3 or 4 a.m.
While this practice is not required, some freeholds adopt the tradition of providing disguises for everyone present. Since identity is a tenuous concept at best, it is easily discarded on this night. Highly talented masquers will provide facades for guests to adopt, while more ingenious masterminds will provide facades that are so clever that few realize they are even present. By morning, these lesser facades will fade away. (Up to five can be created for one point of Glamour on this night of lies.) Romantics of the Masque legacy have been known to re-create famous courtly romances on this night, mocking and satirizing them every step of the way, and some even go so far as to take on the facades of courtly lovers to steal or ravish the objects of their affection.
By tradition, this night is a chance for commoners to recognize fae who have escaped the notice of their betters. Common folk who are nominated for such titles have a chance to prove their worth by word or by deed. Since all is forgiven (and forgotten) on the following morning, this is the best time to confess transgressions against the nobility. Declaring retribution or revenge against a Seelie or a member of the nobility will sway the voting. The titles awarded are the same in the hierarchy of the Unseelie Court. Seelie commoners are eligible as well, but only if they have undergone the Descent (described below).
Crowns and capes of papier-mâché and rags are presented, and all bow before the nobility of the Shadow Court. In less-civilized circles, the nobles wear bones and strips of flesh, and their crimson robes are dyed with human blood. Saving up for such festivities takes a long time and a great deal of discretion. Fortunately, human sacrifice is not as prevalent as it once was. We are indeed fortunate that we live in a world that is too civilized for such activities.
Unseelie commoners also demonstrate their hospitality at this time of year. For the commoners in most freeholds, this involves multiple tables of food. The nature of the freehold influences what the feast will be. Some feasts are elegant repasts, with roasted pheasants, lightly toasted Samhain cakes, and several bottles of wine. Once the feast is underway, however, guests who rebuke such a pretense at culture will descend upon the feast with bottles of ketchup and jars of mayonnaise, ripping apart food with their fingers and starting epic belching concertos.
Not everyone feasts in this manner. Childlings love to collect mountains of candy and sugary goodies, while redcaps are more than pleased to build temples of meat at which other fae can worship. For satyrs, the traditional feast involves sexual indiscretion and orgies of the most elaborate kind. It is not uncommon for this to eventually interrupt the main feast; after the first few hours, many of the foodstuffs present are incorporated into the orgy. However, this is not required. On this night of passion, gluttony and lust are seen as virtues, and so those who would not normally indulge, or who are forbidden against indulgence, will revel.
There is a variety of tournaments on this night, and the eating competition is only one of these. Satyrs and others who pursue debauchery have a tourney of their own, called the Satyr’s Feast. The goal of their tournament is to see who can lead the most chaste and innocent individuals across the most sexual thresholds on one night. The converts can be enchanted, but all participants must be willing, it is a contest of seduction as well as technique. Enchanted mortals are the usual delicacy in a Satyr’s Feast, even though some tragos prefer to get back to nature. (See Shadow Court#Satyrs)
It is traditional for the redcaps to have their feast at a separate table. These staunch warriors have a long night of tournaments ahead of them, and despite their voracious appetites, gorging does tend to reduce one’s fighting prowess. Piles of half-eaten food are set aside for their feast, along with broken furniture, scrap metal and other delicacies. In the unlikely event that innocents are killed on this night, there will be a pile of a few bodies for ogres and redcaps alike, after the bodies have been used to decorate the crowns and robes of less-civilized freeholds.
Seelie who value their purity had best stay away from Samhain revelry. Any who witnesses the events of this night will be tempted to give in to their Unseelie Legacies for one night. Resisting this requires a Willpower roll (difficulty 9) and at least four successes. Seelie who overcome this first roll must attempt it again for each scene they witness. If they watch part of a ceremony and flee, however, they are fair game for cliques who didn’t find the revelry of Hell’s Night to be enough.
It has thus become a popular pastime for cliques to hunt down Seelie on this night, regardless of whether they have witnessed ceremonies or not. The taunting and mind games they indulge in will often result in a Seelie losing their temper or composure. The Descent is the inevitable result. Honorary clique members will be corrupted or enlightened, depending on your point of view. By dawn, the guest will return to their Seelie Legacy, but the rest of the clique may be impressed enough to recruit them later.
Members of existing Unseelie cliques decide whether to switch alliances on this night and form new cliques. All oaths of bonding are off. It’s common for long-standing cliques to reassemble, but witnessing the mock tournaments and bonfire storytelling sessions may change an Unseelie’s mind.
To settle up old scores, long-standing grudges between members of a clique must be settled with mock duels. Part of the structure of the duel, however, depends on the ingenuity of its parameters. Shadow duels are usually fought with chimerical weapons, and these are often of elaborate design. Nockers and goblins offer their wares as party favors this night anyway, so the challenger must choose the weapons, and the challenged must choose the location. Secrecy is advised, but the Samhain Mists work overtime tonight, so mortals who thought they witnessed duels with razor-edged boomerangs on rooftops or chainsaw duels in gutted buildings can’t fully believe what they see. Later, they remember these antics as typical Halloween shenanigans instead.
At midnight, the bonfires are lit, and loyal Unseelie and corrupt Seelie alike compete by confessing their greatest misdoings of the year. Lying is an option, but it is traditional for a corrupt noble of House Gwydion to observe the ceremonies. Members of House Eiluned rarely participate at all. It is not uncommon for less-eloquent fae to choose champions to tell their stories for them. Many aspiring cliques will choose a skilled storyteller to join their clique for the next year to witness their accomplishments.
The stories that receive the greatest oration, biggest celebration, or highest number of sexual propositions are then referred to private audiences. Instigators make a point of being present, since they often consider these stories when deciding whom to award Prestige to and whom to condemn to lesser ranks. Once the new titles have been chosen, Instigators participate last of all. The Instigator who has achieved the greatest accomplishment for the year continues for the duration of the next year. The others are reduced to masterminds or guardians to make way for new rulers.
Nockers and goblins love to compete, and as is typical of many social gatherings, one or two goblin grumps will announce the “fashion” for the gathering anywhere from one week to one month beforehand. The ceremony that results usually involves a great deal of destruction, as many of the goblin’s creations don’t last beyond that night. Less-valued creations are offered as “party favors,” but the most imaginative are detonated for the pleasure of the Mock Court.
A separate category in this tourney is the manufacture of chimerical weapons. These devices are tested in the tourneys, although spectacular backfires are considered just as valuable as capacity to injure. Trolls, redcaps and ogres who barter for these items do so at their own risk. The more exotic weapons have a greater potential for impressing a crowd, but young apprentices find a steady trade in manufacturing chimerical polearms and elaborate chimerical swords. More discriminating patrons will purchase old near-dead cars and have them chimerically “detailed” for that night, transforming them into chariots and siege engines. Glamorous items produced over the last year can be offered as payment, although many nockers try to work their way into prestigious cliques by offering their works of art as samples. By the time dawn arrives, most of the scraps and remains have been salvaged.
The Mock Tourneys
The knights of the Shadow Court are chosen at the annual Mock Tourney. There is a variety of categories in this competition, although all weapons employed are chimerical. The first few events typically involve wrestling, bare-fist fighting and boggan-tossing. It is possible to win either by defeating all of one’s adversaries, or by impressing the crowd with innovative carnage. Each winner receives a title, which is good for the next year.
The weapon-based categories employ chimerical devices, most of which are provided by nockers and goblins. The results of each event are recorded on goblin parchment and presented to one of the Instigators present. Thus, many warriors of the Shadow Court are given titles that they will not remember until weeks later when they are informed by Instigators. In particular, the Grandmaster of Double-Chainsaws and Grand Carnage Knight titles are held with great esteem.
The last event of the night is car jousting, a tradition that dates back to the late ‘50s. This event usually involves the assistance of squires, although some trolls have been known to tear the roofs off vehicles and steer one-handed. Motorcycles and buses are also allowed, as are chimerical mounts. The wreckage is then salvaged by the goblins, who put it to good use.
A Note on Death
It’s really tempting to try to get away with murder, literally, on this night. This is one reason why wiser Seelie stay away from larger Samhain celebrations or only indulge in small, intimate gatherings. One note of caution, though: Even if you don’t believe in the Escheat, you’ll still take on Banality for killing other fae on Samhain. The Bright Road is busy on that night, and the Shroud can incur a “backlash” against fools who traffic with death too freely. Murdering a changeling on this night earns you one point of Banality whether you’re Kithain or Thallain, although some Storytellers will set this at two or three points if they want an especially bloodless evening. In addition, the Samhain Mists will erase clues from extreme crimes from mortal eyes, but faerie eyes (or ogre noses) may pick up a few hints. Then again, conditioning someone else to kill is another matter entirely....
Masterminds and Unseelie eshu travel freely throughout all the events looking for potential recruits. Repressed and neglected Seelie who fall into the festivities are prime candidates, as they often display their true potentials. Seelie who undergo the Descent, nonetheless, are still rather tight-lipped about their Seelie allies.
Unseelie who are not yet members of the Shadow Court are sought out and observed during this time. It is not necessary for an Unseelie to be condemned before joining a Shadow Court clique, but those who have demonstrated their disdain for the Seelie and the nobility are often contacted at this time.
There are also distraught individuals who seek out the Shadow Court for vengeance or enlightenment. Commoners with vendettas contact cliques in the shadows at this time in order to petition their grievances. Nobles and sidhe who have fallen into despair or tragedy are approached by Unseelie who offer a chance to follow the intricacies of the Pageant. Seelie who undergo the Quest of the Darkest Heart find it easier to set out on their paths veiled in mystery, and so Samhain is an excellent time to start.
Powerful fae come out of hiding to meet personally with their contacts at this time. After rituals of sacrifice, confession, and ceremony, they decide who is most qualified to work as Instigators over the next year. Secret societies shift their alliances, and hidden oaths are made for the upcoming year. Grand schemes are discussed, and vendettas are plotted.
Instigators also discuss at this time whether the seven tenets of the Manifesto have been advanced, and they sometimes have lengthy debates over interpretation. Finally, times and places are set for drop points and meetings, and their conclave disbands for more personal rituals. Only a select few are invited to these gatherings, but preparations for the year are made during Samhain.
The Sluagh Ritual of the Dead
As sluagh delight in secrets, they are eager to hear the revelations of the dead at this time of year. Gathering near suspected haunts, graveyards, and other places that are important to the deceased, they invite wraiths to join them in ceremony. Deals and alliances are made, although few last beyond the following Samhain. Sluagh never forget the oaths they make during this time of year, although they sometimes forget the circumstances that prompted them. The Shadow Court is often paranoid about the dead, but sluagh have the freedom to make deals without interference or concern from the court.
See Ritual of the Dead.
The Ritual of the Eidolon
Early in the night, Unseelie nobility attempt to communicate with fae who are lost in the lands of the dead. Black avians descend into the chambers where their rituals are perpetrated, and fae whisper questions and information to these eidolons. They seldom return before three or four in the morning, and so nobles often sequester themselves before they retire for the night as they wait for a response. Quill in hand, they write down the responses they receive, although many of these dreamlike notes appear quite cryptic the following day. (In general, anything written down or recorded electronically slowly dissipates before dawn.) If deceased fae have requests to make, the living will respond again before daylight overtakes them and send the eidolons on their way again.
ProphecySoothsayers of the Shadow Court will also try to predict... or verify... tragedies to occur over the next year. The difficulty for any Soothsaying that bodes ill-fortune is at a -3 on this night. Ritualist cliques typically make one of these predictions each hour, and deliver them to the newest Instigators at the end of the night. They are never able to accurately predict whom the next Instigators will be, however. The events of this one night are too drastic for even Soothsayers to predict fully.
An hour or two before dawn, the Soothsayers will then hold a ceremony for the newest Instigators, wishing them good fortune. As there is never human sacrifice at these events, the few survivors that are left after the crowns and robes of human body parts have not been made are not ceremonially butchered at this time. Of course, the ogres and redcaps first must clean up after the feast of dead bodies that did not occur.
The Legend of the Heavens
There are legends that the most powerful Unseelie in Arcadia can return to Earth at this time, but only for one night. As part of their pact, however, they cannot appear in their true forms. The most devoted members of the Shadow Court are contacted by them at this time, and can converse with them about the progress made on Earth. Prophesies have confirmed that the darkest of the Unseelie cannot return to Earth until Endless Winter has been made a reality, and so the most successful Instigators of the Shadow Court receive guidance at this time. Childling Thallain spies consider this possibility to be more thrilling than Christmas. As with many events heavily obscured by the Mists, these visions are quite elaborate and surreal. Use of the Remembrance Background clarifies the meaning of these visits and identifies them for what they are. Receiving an emissary from Arcadia is considered a signal of honor.
The Final Mystery
As the first rays of dawn appear, the Mists are at their strongest. Save for the Instigators and their ritualists, none remember what they have seen. Those who vaguely remember often have brief glimpses, often obscured as visions or allegorical metaphors. Some seek out the Remembrance for truth, but portents are hard to find. (Characters will only be able to deduce the truth from clues they find on themselves, even if players remember the evening quite well.)
The Instigators remember, though, and they carry out their foul plans in the months that follow until Samhain returns. Save for the mysterious blood-stains that the Unseelie boggans love to clean up, the scrap metal that goes to the goblins, the odd sores and telltale bleeding shamefully hidden by Seelie guests, and the complete absence of any ceremonial victims left over, the ritual of Samhain remains as a nightmare hidden in the depths of the subconscious... for another year, at least.
Yule · Boxing Day · Midwinter's Night · Imbolc · Homstrom · Carnival · Vernal Equinox · The Greening · May Day · Beltaine · Midsummer · Highsummer Night · Lughnasa · Autumnal Equinox · Pennons · Samhain · Guy Fawkes Day · Nizhniy Novgorod · Holidays of Oah'u
Nanusuka · New Year's Day · Obun · Moon Festivals · First Moon · Second Moon · Third Moon · Fourth Moon · Fifth Moon · Sixth Moon · Seventh Moon · Eighth Moon · Ninth Moon · Tenth Moon · Eleventh Moon · Twelfth Moon